An avatar is a graphic representation that represents a real person. Avatars are used in virtual worlds, social media, websites and communities as an alter ego or character image. They can be both personal icons (so-called picons) in two-dimensional form and three-dimensional graphic representations such as cartoon characters.
The term avatar was first coined by Richard Garriott. As early as 1985, the game designer created a game concept with “UltimaIV: Quest of the Avatar”, which provided for an avatar to represent the player. The term, which comes from Hinduism, was first used in the games area. Later, as the Internet developed, Internet forums, chats, messengers and finally social networks, blogs and websites were added.
Avatars in computer games
In computer games, an avatar can represent a player. In games like “Second Life” or “World of Warcraft” the player creates an avatar at the beginning. He can define this down to the smallest detail using various characteristics (e.g. face shape, eye colour, hair colour, skin colour) and either emulate his own likeness or generate a completely new character. This artificially created character is then steered through various virtual worlds and sometimes even communicates with other avatars.
Avatars in Forums and social networks
On the Internet, avatars play a major role when it comes to activities in forums or social media . Here the term denotes small symbols, which often measure 80 x 80 pixels. Depending on the platform selected, these symbols are displayed above, below or next to the user name and corresponding post.
Here they serve to increase the recognition value of a person or a profile on the Internet. In this way, they are a trust element that is intended to generate trust. On social media, many people use a real photo of themselves as an avatar. In forums, on the other hand, where people usually act anonymously, this tends to be the case rarely. On the other hand, cartoon figures, 3D graphics, photographs of places, animals or stars, illustrations, sayings and statements and other motifs are used more frequently.
If social media is used commercially, avatars that communicate the values of the company in a certain way are recommended. In this context, experts speak of visual coherence: the first visual impression of a potential customer is designed in such a way that the recognition value is as high as possible. In addition to an avatar, other aspects also play an important role, such as the colours, fonts and logos used in the entire corporate communication. Avatars are an integral part of corporate identity here.
Avatars on blogs
If you leave comments in blogs, you have the option of uploading an avatar in many CMS. This will later appear next to the post. The design options already mentioned are also suitable for this, with some CMS offering special services for creating avatars. If avatars are only used in blogs, the term blavatar is also common.
So-called “gravatars” are a special feature. These are avatars that are identical on different blogs and are used globally. One speaks of the “Globally Recognized Avatar”. Blogs based on the CMS WordPress can automatically recognize gravatar. If the user sets up an avatar on gravatar.com and later uses the email address stored there in a comment on a WordPress blog, the created Gravatar is automatically displayed.
Avatars in the online shop
Avatars are used in online shops for a completely different strategy. Here, avatars are used to realize digital customer advisors and contact persons who support the user in their user experience on the website. If he has questions about the service, the range of goods, navigation or the purchasing process, he can communicate with the avatar. Behind this avatar is a real person who answers the questions, similar to a live chat.
Through the targeted use of avatars, conversion can be sustainably increased. This development results from the fact that the customer is not left alone with questions about the product or difficulties during the ordering process, but is instead taken by the hand and guided to the completion of the order. Here, avatars are part of measures that serve to create trust.
importance for social media
Avatars have become indispensable in the areas of gaming, social media and other Internet services. They should increase the recognition value and create trust. In the case of commercial use, they should be included in the entire corporate communication and the associated corporate identity. In this context, however, not just any image should be chosen, but one that symbolizes certain values of the company.
At best, avatars are part of the company’s visual communication. Because a response from the users also depends on how companies approach the topic of social branding and what all that entails for them. Successful branding goes far beyond avatars, logos and typography and includes aspects such as customer service behaviour and meeting customer expectations.